Obviously, there is no guarantee that hard times will spare us just because we’re doing good deeds for others. It would seem fair, but we all know the well-worn adage about life and fairness and all that. Joan and Sarah Wilt certainly expected nothing more than the inner warmth that often accompanies helping others when they became involved six years ago with the island’s Christmas Fund.
Mother Joan, she of the quirky sense of humor, said she’d write the December columns that thank islanders for their donations to the 60-year-old fund but only if daughter Sarah would join her. She did, with Joan usually writing the first half of the column and Sarah then dutifully applyhing the finishing touches to all those acknowledgements.
They loved doing the writing and thanking together and the mother-daughter team became even tighter when Sarah and her husband were involved in a horrendous car accident in 2005, which led to Sarah convalescing from several broken bones at her mother’s island home for more than a year.
And now, Sarah is on her own following Joan’s death last February following heart surgery. She wrestled with whether or not she should continue involvement with the fund this year, but eventually decided she had to move on.
“It was a difficult decision and I thought, ‘no way’ at first. But then on the other hand I just wanted to prove I could do it. And Mom would be very disappointed if I had succumbed to the burden and walked away,” she said. “I’m very happy I decided to carry on. There’s been a tremendous response from people. The emotion is just part of getting through it. And I’ve discovered a lot of family and friends who have lost loved ones this year, too. It’s been an incredible year of loss for people.”
It has also been a incredible year for many island families who are trying to adjust to the financial woes that have struck them. Sarah said the fund has been slow to grow this December but is finally beginning to get some upward momentum. So far most of the donations have come from “regulars,” people who give and give and give each and every December – whether it’s $10 or $1,000.
Joan Wilt was a natural at enticing people to contribute to the fund merely by her presence. Most of all, she loved to relate to people while doing her Christmas shopping.
“Mom was very funny and people enjoyed her. Her sense of humor was similar to mine, but she came at it from a different generation. Our family’s approach to life, I guess, is to try to see the funny side of life.
“She had a different way of defining people and coaxing laughs out of them. She just had a whimsical way of looking at life, and particularly the tribulations. It was just her way of lightening the load.”
She was also very supportive of anyone who needed help, including her daughter.
“When I was going through the worst of it,” said Sarah, who is still mending from serious leg and hip fractures, “I was lucky to have her there to help me get through it. I couldn’t have done it without her. That’s just the way she was. We had two great years of being together.”
Sarah’s re-commitment to the fund has had it’s ups and downs because of how much she misses her partner, but she hasn’t forgotten that her goal is to help others along with self-recovery emotionally as well as physically.
“I’m working through it,” she said. “Fortunately, I have special memories to get me through it.”
And the fund helps, too.